Varadkar holds ‘positive’ talks with Northern parties on powersharing

Taoiseach defends Donald Tusk’s remark there is a ‘special place in hell’ for Brexiteers

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended European Council president Donald Tusk over his comments about there being “a special place in hell” for those who promoted Brexit without a plan to deliver it safely.

Speaking in Belfast on Friday, Mr Varadkar said those unhappy about Mr Tusk’s comments this week should remember some of the “political rhetoric that has been directed at the European Union” during the Brexit debate.

“It was only a few months ago that people in the United Kingdom government were comparing the European Union to communism,” he said.

“And bear in mind that Donald Tusk spent much of his life fighting to overthrow communism. There has been a lot of rhetoric coming from a lot of different quarters. I think the best thing to do is just to rise above it.”

Mr Varadkar was with Mr Tusk in Brussels on Wednesday when he told a press conference that he wondered what the “special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely”. The comment was criticised by Brexit supporters.

Restoration

Mr Varadkar was speaking during a visit to meet members of the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP and Alliance to discuss Brexit and the restoration of powersharing at Stormont. The meetings were conducted with relative good humour, but there was no sign of any breakthrough on either issue.

The Taoiseach emphasised that he was not holding Brexit negotiations with the parties, but rather wanted to hear “their perspectives” on the UK quitting the EU.

South Antrim Assembly member Steve Aiken (UUP) said Mr Varadkar expressed concern that some of the commentary around Brexit ultimately could incite violence.

“What we said to the Taoiseach fairly clearly is we need to de-dramatise the conversation that’s going on, and Ireland needs to consider very carefully what it’s going to do to make sure we are actually going to get a deal.”

Mr Varadkar said the focus remained on finding a way forward on Brexit.

“Everyone wants to avoid a no-deal, everyone wants to avoid a hard border and everyone wants to have a very close political and economic relationship between Britain and Ireland, no matter what happens,” he said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her meeting with Mr Varadkar was positive.

‘Acceptable’

“We want to get a deal, that’s what we are engaged in at the minute, trying to get a deal that will be acceptable to members in the House of Commons, because you can only get an agreement when both sides agree and at the moment you only have the European Union agreeing with what’s on the table,” she said.

Ms Foster said talk of a unity referendum was part of Brexit “project fear”

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill repeated her call for a referendum on Irish unity in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. This followed a BBC report quoting three unnamed British cabinet ministers who said a no-deal Brexit could lead to such a vote.

However, Ms Foster said talk of a unity referendum was part of Brexit “project fear”, and the criteria set out in the Belfast Agreement on a border poll “hasn’t been satisfied and therefore will not be called”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he felt reassured that the Government and the EU were standing with the people of Northern Ireland after his meeting with Mr Varadkar.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic and permanent” and that the backstop must not be removed from the withdrawal agreement.